Practice of Science was selected as a finalist for
Royal Society Prize for Science Books. The judges said: “How
is science done? This book looks behind the scenes and tells the
story of what makes scientific minds tick and how scientific theories
are made. A fascinating, personal account – essential reading
for anyone with an interest in science, from pupil to politician.”
Philosophy of Science and Bioethics
My research program consists of cross-disciplinary
studies at the boundary between science and philosophy, attempting
to articulate what doing science entails with the goal of informing
science policy decisions and advancing science education and public
understanding of science. The philosophical approach that I use
involves exploring the assumptions and challenges implicit in practice.
Currently, two projects are underway.
One project focuses on research integrity in secondary
school science fair. Matters relating to research integrity have
become a major policy issue in the United States and worldwide.
Notwithstanding increased attention to the subject over the past
25 years since NIH made research integrity instruction a requirement
in graduate education, the factors that undermine research integrity
remain poorly understood. Best practices for promoting research
integrity remain poorly developed. The purpose of this study is
to understand better science fair as an early student experience
in practice of science and to learn if problems with research integrity
already are present as early as secondary school science fair.
The other project focuses on assessing risk in human
research. Accomplishing risk-based regulation of human research
means effectively linking how risky a project is perceived to be
for the people taking part with the kind and extent of Institutional
Review Board (IRB) and agency oversight. Problems in risk assessment
arise from the inherent heterogeneity of human research, e.g., diversity
of research protocols, variability of subjects, and biases of IRB
members. Equally important, however, is the framework used for risk-assessment
itself. The purpose of this study is to test a new framework for
analyzing and discussing human research risk based on the heuristic
known as post-normal science. Underlying the new framework are key
modifications of current practices that, taken together, give rise
to the new approach.
1) Current language does not make clear whether
the focus should be on risk in the abstract (i.e., considering
all possibilities) or in context (i.e., added risk to the specific
research population). The new framework asks IRB members to focus
on added risk that individuals would face by participating as
subjects in the research.
2) Conventionally, IRB members are asked to evaluate probability
and magnitude of harm or discomfort. The words magnitude and probability
imply that risk could be determined objectively rather than being
highly subjective. Moreover, underlying the word probability is
the assumption that experimental outcomes will be predictable.
In the new framework, the emphasis is on predictability rather
than probability, and the words emphasize the subjectivity of
risk assessment. Magnitude becomes Decision Stakes: Extent of
Added Physical or Psychosocial Risk. Probability becomes Uncertainty
about Occurrence of Added Physical or Psychosocial Risk.
3) Finally, the new framework keeps separate for purposes of
discussion among IRB members (and potentially researchers) the
parameters of Decision stakes and Uncertainty. Doing so may allow
a clearer and more nuanced understanding of what makes a particular
project more or less risky.